Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Does my novel have to be set in America?"

Hi Mr Lukeman,  Thanks so much for the opportunity to ask a question at all.  I'm working on a YA Urban Fantasy that is set in Sydney, Australia. I'm wondering if this would be a problem when it came to seeking representation and (hopefully, one day!) selling it. I'd always intended to seek representation by an American agent, and I wonder if I'm pigeon-holing myself before I begin. The story I'm telling isn't particularly Australian, but Sydney happens to be the setting.
Thanks so much for your time.
Sarah :)


In the ideal world, it is usually easier to land a deal in the U.S. if your work is set in America. That said, its being set in another country should not be a deal breaker. The quality of the writing will matter much more than the location. If the writing is good enough, you should be able to land a deal regardless. As an added benefit, if you do land a U.S. deal, it might make it a bit easier to sell Australian rights. And if you can't land a U.S. deal, you might be able to sell it directly to an AU publisher--and then if the book does well over there, have another excuse to re-try U.S. houses. The real issue is whether Australia is just a setting for a timeless and universal story, or whether this is truly a local, Australian story. If the former, your chances are much better; if the latter, it becomes more of an issue.




  1. Dear Mr. Lukeman: In the mid-nineties two of my mystery novels were published and were well reviewed -- starred review in Kirkus, nice mention in Playboy, good reviews in Publisher's Weekly and major newspapers. I also had stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, literary magazines, and articles in Writer's Digest. Despite the reviews, novel sales weren't good. Life events caused me to put writing aside. I'm back at it now and am ready to query again. Absent strong sales, am I better off omitting my publishing history?

  2. Hi Noah, I just wanted to say a big thank you for taking the time to answer my question, especially in such a straight foward way. It's hugely appreciated :)

  3. Hi Noah,

    My question is also about trying to publish again. My literary novel was published by a major house, but I did not earn back my advance. I simply do not now how to address (or ignore) this issue in my queries. I have two additional novels and would really like to get them out in the world. How tough is this going to be for me?

    Thanks for any help you can give.

  4. Hi Noah. Really enjoy the blog. I had a question about writing under a pseudonym. I've written several books of narrative nonfiction with a major house, two of which became NY Times bestsellers. I also have a crime novel coming out next year, all with the same agent.

    I've recently finished a supernatural novel that I want to publish under a pseudonym, to create a separate identity for that part of my work. My agent doesn't represent any supernatural authors and doesn't know that world. I'm also concerned that some editors believe I'm too prolific and that branching out into a new genre will be seen negatively. If I have my agent send out the supernatural title, I'm sure the industry will know that I'm the author, as the style isn't that far removed from my crime book, and my agent does very little fiction in general.

    i've let my agent know I'd like to seek other representation for my supernatural work, but my question is: will other agents be willing to represent just my horror novels? And is it OK if I query them under my pseudonym, saying that I'd like to remain anonymous until they've read the ms. and agreed to represent me?

    Thanks for your time.

  5. I love Australian settings. I've never been and always wanted to go...ever since I read Anne Baxter's autobio, "Intermission."

  6. Question: Does it reflect badly on an author (in regards to future deals) to change literary agents mid-contract? Obviously, my current agent is entitled to any monies earned by current and past deals, but I'm wondering how to professionally and ethically switch agents before I submit any more proposals to publishers. I hate that I'm even considering this-- I'm a very loyal person and my agent has sold several books for me-- but this last contract has revealed some ethical issues (dishonesty, missteps) that have made me feel like I cannot trust her. Also, if I were to switch agents, how would I start the process? By contacting the old agent? Submitting to new agents?

  7. Hi Noah,

    I have a question about querying that I haven't been able to find an answer to. After sending out a few queries, I received some advice that I really thought would improve my book. I took the advice and made some changes to my manuscript that changed the opening of the book (which I had already sent with some queries) as well as the length of the novel. Here's my question: What should you do if your manuscript changes after you've already queried? Obviously the MS is different than your sample pages, so what do you do?


  8. Hi Noah,

    I'm a 13 year old writer from Singapore. As the arts scene is not very vibrant in my country, I wish to find an American/British publisher.

    Do you think they will entertain my requests, taking into consideration my country?


  9. Greetings Mr. Lukeman:

    For the sake of argument, let's just say I have a body of humorous non-fiction stories, well-written essays that comprise more than enough laugh-out-loud moments to capture the attention of an agent and/or publisher.

    Let's say I have enough material for several books and I'm the kind of author who's central character (in other words, his own personality) could be rendered for marketing purposes, much in the same way the "character" of David Sedaris is central to most of his work.

    (And please forgive me for being yet another one of the thousands of aspiring authors who directly or indirectly compare themselves to David Sedaris...)

    Once again I'll ask you to play along with me and pretend, for the moment, I'm the next great American icon of literature, as of yet undiscovered. Here's the question: should I submit one or more of these stories first to magazines for hopeful publication, or should I bypass that route and submit them (to an agent) as a full book?

    Thank you in advance for your reply,

    David Tice Allison

  10. Dear Mr. Lukeman,

    I have written a novel in the historical fiction genre, and I have identified seven photographs that I want to include. I have already begun the process of securing rights to them, and it doesn't look like there will be any problems.

    My question is: if I send out a query letter to an agent, and the agent wants to see part or all of the manuscript, I think it's important that I send the pictures along with the prose - do I need to have already paid for the rights to the photos, or can I just note that I don't have the rights yet (i.e. haven't paid for them) but that the owner is known and the rights are securable?

  11. Hello from BC Canada,

    I am just re-reading: The First Five Pages as I work through the edits on my first novel. I have a couple of questions re: presentation.

    Is a PDF format a good one to use, when submitting a manuscript for consideration?

    Also, is it acceptable to print a manuscript on an inkjet printer?

    I have read a lot of books on this topic but yours is by far the most helpful and user-friendly, overall. Thanks so much.


  12. Hi,

    I have written my first 98,000 word novel and one fourth of the second novel in the series. I have now got offers from 4 publishers - one in England, and 3 in the US - with great reviews. These are not from agents; they are offers directly from publishers. I did not even have to look for long.

    Does that mean my book and series is good?

    Does it mean that I might make good money from my works?

    I have selected one of the American publishers in order to reach an American audience.

    - Jenni

  13. Mr. Lukeman--

    I am a first-time author and I've been working with an agent for a year and half (we signed a contract). In that time, I've done three revisions for her. This last revision, she assured me would be "the one." However, after I sent it to her, she said that while it was "Amazing and I will have no problem selling it" she still doesn't think it is the right version to send out. She also said she did not have time to offer me notes because of other commitments. I suggested (kindly) that perhaps we should part ways, but she assured me that she didn't want to do that and she would get me notes when she could. Should I stay or go? I'm not sure what signals she is is sending. Thanks for your help.

  14. Hi Noah,

    In "Land a Literary Agent" you say that a draft you send in to an agent should go through "20 or 40 revisions" first. I've never heard a consistent definition of revision, so I'm wondering what your idea of a revision is. I've heard "revision" mean everything from a complete rewrite to a read-through with a couple of minor grammatical changes.

    On a side note, thank you for making your work so available. I've read "Land a Literary Agent," "Write a Query Letter," and "Ask a Literary Agent Year 1," and I am currently reading "The Plot Thickens." I'm working on my first novel and I plan to use what I've learned from you to sell my book when it's done.


  15. Hello Noah :D I'm new to writing, I'm currently working on a womens fiction novel that I hope to finish this year. I do not have an agent, as I'm not at that stage yet, however I have been researching agents, queries, publishing and the like. I've also been looking into indie publishing, but I'm no PR or sales expert. My question relates to copyright etc, and I'm hoping you can advise me…? I have been advised to ‘blog the book,‘ chapter by chapter, to promote myself and my book, to hopefully gain an audience of potential readers before publication. However, although I will probably have to self publish initially , I understand that mainstream publishers buy the rights to your work when you sign a contract, so if I were to blog my actual book, would that mean that the rights would no longer be available to sell? Also, I have concerns re copyright theft. What is your opinion on ‘blogging a book‘ as a means of promotion? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

  16. Hello-

    I was wondering about using a pen name if my name is similar to someone who has a quasi-known name. There is a Harvard law professor named James L. Heskett who has published non-fiction books on economics. I would like to use my own name (Jim Heskett), is that too close? Should I go by Initials + Last name? Does it even matter if I would theoretically be writing fiction books?

    I've already started to try to build a brand around my name. If I was to switch to a pen name, would prefer to do so as soon as possible (reserving domain names, twitter accounts, etc.)

    Any advice you can give would be helpful


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